Gaza ceasefire: A complicated equation

Alwaght – The Palestinian factions resumed talks on a roadmap to national reconciliation and a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip on Sunday in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Indirect negotiations between Hamas and the Israeli regime, mediated by the Egyptian government, Qatar, and the United Nations, to reach a truce in the besieged Palestinian enclave are also underway.

An Egyptian security resource has told the Reuters news agency that the Egyptian officials sought a long-term deal on cessation of fire between the Palestinian movement and Tel Aviv and that Cairo is strongly working for a finalized agreement.

Before the talks between the opponents started, a Hamas official told the media that intra-Palestinian dialogue on the Gaza ceasefire made considerable progress, adding that before the Sunday meeting, the Palestinians agreed on 90 percent of the Egypt-proposed peace initiative.

Over the past few days, Gaza has been living a situation between fear and optimism. The Gazans on the one hand are under suffocating economic blockade from the sea, air, and land and hope that an accord with Tel Aviv will bring to an end over a decade of suffering. On the other hand, the people are living under the stress of the possibility of a new war between the Israeli regime and Hamas.

According to the proposed agreement, the first phase of the implementation will see the Palestinians on the Israeli-Gaza border halt their demonstrations, under Great March of Return campaign, and stop flying incendiary balloons into the Israeli farms which inflicted relatively huge damages on the Israelis. The initial stage of the peace will be year-long, during which the border gates, including the significant Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt, will be opened. Additionally, Qatar will help the return of electricity to the enclave and payments to the Gaza state employees will be made.

The second stage, as the sources familiar with the proposal have revealed, will include launching huge economic projects in the Palestinian territories, particularly Gaza, and opening a sea route linking the besieged territory to Cyprus under the Israeli security supervision. The opposite sides will also negotiate for a deal that will see a prisoner swap between the two sides.

The negotiations are underway while the Fatah leaders are not interested in an Egypt-sponsored Hamas-Tel Aviv truce and will very likely not commit to its terms. Some Palestinian sources have said that Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah leader and president of the Palestinian Authority, is opposed to the peace deal which Cairo is working out in association with Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process.

Fatah argues that any peace process should be pushed in coordination with it and within the framework of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), continuing that talking to Hamas alone will undermine Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, as the official representative of Palestine on the global arena. Saeb Erekat, a senior PLO member and chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks, has asserted that PLO was the only representation of the Palestinian people and it should be the main party for truce dialogue with the Israelis.

To press Gaza officials, Fatah has practical tools, including the state employees’ wages. So, its opposition to the truce will mark an important hurdle. Part of Gaza crisis rests in intra-Palestinian divisions. For several months, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority has blocked the wages of the Gaza-based state workers. It argues that Hamas has not handed over full control of the region to the national government according to an October accord to rid Palestine of division. So, part of the deal with Tel Aviv will require implementation of the Hamas-Fatah agreement.

Fatah justifies its opposition by saying that any peace will the Israelis is tied to reconciliation between the Palestinians. Erekat maintained that the ceasefire will be successful only if the Palestinians reconcile and end home rifts, a job should be done by the PLO, the organization that signed a peace deal on Gaza with Tel Aviv in 2014. Egypt, as the main sponsor of the efforts, will use its relationship with Abbas and Fatah, and if necessary put pressure on them, to bring them to its side to get their positive stance for a finalized agreement.

Currently, serious pro-peace efforts are underway by the Israeli regime, Egypt, and Hamas. The three parties are heavily working for the realization of the deal to evade threats of war and take advantage of possible peace. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a visit to Colombia and some Hamas officials abroad have traveled to Gaza. All these developments, the analysts suggest, bear signs of a determination to seal a deal. A series of issues, involving the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza on the one hand and anti-Israeli protest campaign as well as incendiary balloons initiative on the other hand, have created an attack for attack and bloodshed for bloodshed equation, a balance of power motivating Hamas-Israeli leaders to seek fire holding.

Each side now has its own bargaining chips. The Palestinian side can play a security game with a range of cards including the creative actions like fire balloons and the captured Israeli soldiers. Tel Aviv, on the opposite side, plays a divisive game by seeking to sow division between Hamas and Gaza citizens and also by weakening the resistance doctrine of the Palestinian movement. The Israelis do not hide this intention. The Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in April said that Tel Aviv works for inter-Gaza gaps to prepare the ground for an uprising against Hamas. He claimed that the Israelis sought direct dialogue with the Gazans without Hamas involvement.

The Israeli intention is clear. It wants to give limited economic privileges to Gaza and wrest Hamas’s significant play cards like the two Israeli captives. Hamas needs to play it smart by separating any prisoner swap accord from other segments of the ceasefire. The truce should be implemented in phases and Hamas needs to make sure that each phase materializes the Gaza citizen’s demands and interests.